Tony Newman refuses to answer any questions from his own Labour councillor colleagues over the conduct of the recent Fairfield council by-election, the candidate selection stitch-up and the dreadful circumstances that created the councillor vacancy.
Newman has admitted this week that he knew that Niro Sirisena, one of his promoted councillors, had been involved in “a serious incident” of violence towards a young woman, but the council leader failed to report the matter to the police immediately.
Instead, Newman spent more than 24 hours organising a cover-up to avoid his Labour council suffering any political damage.
“He’s told Private Eye magazine more than he’s told us,” one councillor said this week after attending a rare meeting of the Town Hall Labour group on Wednesday night.
Privately, Newman’s colleagues are accusing him of “hiding behind election purdah” over the Sirisena incident and his stitch-up of the candidate for the Fairfield by-election.
Another councillor told Inside Croydon: “He’s hoping that by the time we get through the General Election, through Christmas and into the New Year, it will have all blown over and he’ll be able to shrug it off as all being in the past.
“It’s astonishing, given what Tony admitted to this week, that there have not been calls for Sarah Jones to insist that he resigns because he covered up violence against a young woman, that his position is untenable. Tony’s conduct could seriously damage Sarah’s campaign. Instead, he just carries on as if nothing has happened, tweeting memes about the White Ribbon campaign.”
Jones is seeking re-election as the Labour MP for the marginal seat of Croydon Central and, like Newman, is a signatory of the White Ribbon pledge to “Never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women.” Before he resigned as a councillor at the end of September, Sirisena had spent six months working in as an aide to MP Jones, a shadow housing minister.
There have been reports that several members of Momentum – the Corbyn-supporting group who did so much to win Croydon Central from the Tories in 2017 – have opted to spend their time campaigning in Streatham. “The Fairfield affair burnt up a lot of goodwill,” said one source.
Barely half of the 41 Labour councillors who between them control Croydon Town Hall bothered to turn up for Wednesday’s group meeting. Newman has at least 25 Labour councillors “on the pay-roll”, awarding them special responsibility allowances, worth between £10,000 and £35,000 each per year in council-funded payments, a system of patronage which Newman exploits to ensure “loyalty” to himself.
Wednesday night involved a brief canvassing session by Newman’s leaflet-delivering cult, followed by a meeting at the Town Hall where the Sirisena scandal and Newman’s handling of it were definitely not on the agenda.
The Labour group meeting did discuss the long-delayed report from the less-than-independent review of the way the council is run. The governance review was a manifesto commitment by Newman’s Labour group in 2018, intended to have a fresh look at the way council business is organised and scrutinised.
With a carefully selected panel chaired by Dame Moira Gibb, a former chief exec of Camden Council, the review was supposed to be completed by April this year, but has been delayed – including by election purdah. The work has cost the borough at least £100,000, and after Wednesday night’s Labour group briefing, a councillor told Inside Croydon: “It ends up being another Tony Newman stitch-up that maintains the status quo and improves nothing.”
The review’s terms of reference were so thoroughly proscribed by Newman and his troika of Paul Scott and Alison Butler that the panel was not allowed even to consider the merits of introducing a directly elected mayor, to replace the current “strong leader” model which Newman (allowances: £56,657, plus expenses and plenty of piss-ups at Boozepark) so enjoys.
“They’re going to recommend a system of advisory committees,” the source said. “It’s not even a return to the old, pre-Blairite committee system. The advisory committees will have no real power, no real influence. Just vacuous talking shops which will rubber-stamp whatever Newman, Butler or Scott want to push through.
“The whole exercise has been a complete sham, a waste of time and public money.”
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